$700 tip on a bottle of wine surprises staff at an Ottawa restaurant

OTTAWA — Restaurants have suffered big losses during the COVID-19 pandemic and continued restrictions have put a financial strain on those in the industry.

For one Ottawa restaurant, a regular customer helped lift the spirits of staff with a big tip.

At Bambu Restaurant on Riverside Drive, chairs atop tables in the middle of the day serves up an obvious reminder that the pandemic has been a challenge.

For at least the next 28 days, Bambu’s 400 seat indoor dining area is closed and the patio is a tough sell during the cooler weather. Co-owner Jenny Lu has had to make some tough decisions. 

“Just to do take-out and delivery I’m not going to have 10 staff on at night. It’s just going to be the bare minimum,” says Lu. “Most of the staff has been with us since day one, so I want to see them come back. We are a family.”

To cope with the move to Stage 2 COVID-19 restrictions, the Asian fusion eatery has extended their delivery radius from five kilometres to 20 kilometres. This has also helped keep staff on the payroll, with many of them now delivering. 

Many customers who visit on a regular basis feel the staff at Bambu are like family as well. Just before the indoor dining room closed last Friday night, one couple made sure to stop by.

Lu says they were in the middle of making their turkey dinner when they heard the news about Ottawa moving to a modified Stage 2 and came to the restaurant to share a bottle of their favourite wine. They also added a $700 tip to the bill to split amongst the staff. 

The servers were no doubt surprised. Lu says the staff appreciated the gesture, shedding a few tears while reading the receipt.

The couple, who wish to stay anonymous, have been supporting Bambu since the restaurant opened 10 years ago. They provided the gratuitous tip not only to help staff who have been thrusted into a situation that could leave them financially vulnerable, but also to pay it forward to a team that has given so much in times of need. 

Bambu provided hot meals to victims and first responders during the flooding in Constance Bay and the tornadoes in Dunrobin. They donated personal protective equipment to the Queensway Carleton Hospital at the onset of the pandemic. 

“We believe in giving back, communities need to come together during hard times,” said Lu.

Co-owner Jeremy Chan says the generous tipsters were among many regular customers that stopped by on Oct. 9 before the indoor dining room closed for at least the next four weeks.

“We had the whole restaurant filled,” says Chan. “We were just blown away. Our sales were almost like a normal Friday that day, even though that was the last day we could keep open.”

Bambu plans to keep their patio open and take-out has picked up during the pandemic.  

Lu has a message for the generous tippers and everyone else who has supported the restaurant.

“It means the world to us. It’s not even really the amount but it’s the intention. It’s just grateful, I am very humbled.”

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